Harold Brighouse’s football comedy, The Game, given a polished performance by Northern Broadsides, invites all sorts of fascinating cross-references. The plot concerns a struggling Lancashire football team whose owner sells star centre-forward Jack Metherell and then tries to persuade him to throw the match against his former team. On the day of the celebrated Wayne Rooney U-turn, the discussions of player loyalty and the dire consequences of the big-money teams hoovering up the best players seemed strangely contemporary for a 100-year-old play.
Then there is the inevitable Hobson’s Choice comparison. Like Brighouse’s masterpiece, The Game is built around a trio of characters: the paterfamilias with more dignity than power, the feisty New Woman daughter and the working class man she wishes to marry. Once again the power is with the daughter and devotees of Hobson’s Choice will catch a pre-echo of some lines, but there are many differences, notably the fact that Austin Whitworth acquiesces in daughter Elsie’s domination.
In Barrie Rutter’s well-balanced production the three central performances are excellent, with Catherine Kinsella finding the smiling charm beneath Elsie’s wilfulness, Phil Rowson deadpanning the centre-forward and man of conscience to great effect and Rutter tempering dignity with gentleness. As In Hobson’s Choice Brighouse creates fine acting parts all down the line and all are well played, notably Wendi Peters, dominating Act 3 as Jack’s termagant mother, and Jos Vantyler, bringing a delicious touch of irony to the role of Whitworth’s aesthetic son.
Unusually for Northern Broadsides, The Game is a straightforward play, presented in a naturalistic setting – stylish simplicity from Laura Clarkson. There’s no clog-dancing or on-stage music, but no lack of entertainment or contemporary relevance.